I started working with Novas as a project worker just before Christmas 2003 when Arlington Lodge first opened its doors. I was lucky enough that, as it was a new project, there were plenty of jobs going and I managed to get one of them. On 15th of December we welcomed our first residents. It was a very exciting time for me. Although I had done some volunteer work previously my experience was limited and I found it such a privilege to get to know and work with all the residents. That sense of privilege is something that I still feel very strongly and I feel incredibly lucky to make a living from spending time with so many special people. There was a great staff team in Arlington too, many of whom are still working with Novas today. As a service Arlington Lodge has evolved a lot since the beginning but the very warm, welcoming and congenial atmosphere has persevered.
After over five years of project working I was appointed to the role of Deputy Manager. This role gave me new experiences and insight. I was very well supported by the service manager Tom Wall and although we had one or two small disagreements over the years, generally I got on great with the staff team and I really enjoyed working with them. I tried to be and hope I was fair with them. In total I spent 12 years working in Arlington Lodge and it was very challenging at times, but mostly it was good fun and time spent with very good people.
Although I have been working for Novas for a good while, I didn’t have any formal qualifications in Social Care. Qualifications alone won’t make a good social care worker but I felt that I needed to educate myself further as to the current developments, theory and evidence base behind Social Care work. On a personal level I also thought it important to have an academic qualification to back up the practical experience I had gained. Returning to education was something that I had put off for a while, not least because of the time and financial commitment. I paid for that procrastination however, because when I finally went for it and signed up to do a Masters in Social Care in IT Tralee, it coincided with me having two children. There was an awful lot of work involved, home was pretty busy and there were plenty of times when I thought “what the hell have you got yourself into”, but I have to say it was one of the best professional decisions I’ve made. I gained a lot of new skills, knowledge and perspective. I think that institutionalisation can affect people working in residential centres as well as people living in them and I believe that doing the masters helped me step outside that space and see things with a freshness and a reinforced enthusiasm to strive for Social Justice. Although it was very hard at times, with a lot of patience and understanding from my wife Fiona and support and flexibility from Tom Wall and Anne Cronin, I managed to get through it and graduated this October.
Thankfully in my experience, Novas have been very open to promoting development among staff and last year an opportunity presented itself. Novas were foolish enough to put me in charge of Knocklee by myself. Luckily there’s very good staff there too and the residents are all very kind and go easy on me. It’s a lovely service, the pace is much slower than Arlington but the atmosphere is still very much dictated by the kindness and spirit of the great people that live there.
My 13 years working with Novas have flown by. I’ve found them to be a very good organisation to work for and an organisation that does its best to look after service users and staff alike, which is lucky because I’ve about 25 more years to wait till retirement so they’ll probably be stuck with me for another while.